Sustainable Transport

The Commission set out a ten-year strategy on sustainability in the transport sector in its 2001 White Paper on Transport Policy. The strategy focused predominantly on balancing the different modes of transport, harmonising legislation within specific sectors, and enhancing transport safety. But, in an enlarged EU, under pressure from accelerating globalisation, high oil prices and transport-targeted terrorist attacks, the EU is looking to adapt its initial strategy.

Due to its potentially detrimental impact on the environment and public health, the transport sector poses one of the greatest policy challenges for sustainable development within the EU. The environmental impacts of transport activity include:

  • emissions of greenhouse gases that are widely perceived as the main cause of global warming
  • emissions of compounds that make the ozone layer thinner, causing damaging infiltration of ultraviolet radiations
  • More than half of all local and regional air pollution is generated by transport-related activities 

Finally, transport activity is a major user of non-renewable energy resources. In the EU, the transport sector is responsible for 31% of energy consumption.

Most of the above mentioned environmental problems are related to road transport, which is the dominant mode of transport in the EU. Road transport accounts for about 84% of CO2 emissions from transport.

In addition to the indirect health impact from noise and air pollution, transport activity is responsible for serious injuries and death through traffic accidents. Accidents occur mainly in road transport. In the EU, about 42,000 people are killed in road accidents every year. The direct costs of car accidents are estimated at €45 billion annually. If all indirect costs (such as medical costs) are taken into consideration, this figure rises to €160 billion.

To reduce the environmental damage caused by the prevailing trend to use road and air transport and to address its increasing congestion problems, the EU wants to promote alternative modes of transport. The 2001 Transport White Paper set 2010 as the deadline by which it aimed to restore the balance between road and other modes of transport to the level of 1998, but in the face of the continued rise in road transport, the Commission is looking at other tools to promote a more sustainable transport policy (see our LinksDossier on Transport White Paper).

The following measures have been proposed:

  • Promoting co-modality

The EU wants to achieve a better integration of different transport modes into efficient logistics chains, in order to allow for an optimised use of all modes that will reduce congestion. An important part of this programme will be enhancing technical harmonisation and interoperability across systems - the focus of an of a 2007 Action Plan for Freight Transport Logistics (EURACTIV 19/10/07). The European financing programme, Marco Polo, has also been available since 2003 to promote innovative solutions in this field  (see the Commission's pages on Marco Polo). 

To reinforce the position of railways, two rail packages aimed at market liberalisation and harmonisation have been adopted. A third legislative package, which aims to open up international passenger transport to competition as of 2010 and improve safety and passenger right protection, was agreed in June 2007 (EURACTIV 22/06/07).  

The Commission is also looking to boost maritime transport, by building on the success of short-sea-shipping within the EU and establishing veritable "motorways of the sea". So far three projects have been approved for financing (EURACTIV 14/07/06). 

To revive inland waterways transport, the European Commission, in January 2006, adopted a Communication on the promotion of inland waterway transport, also known as the “NAIADES” Action Programme. It focuses on five strategic areas to make inland navigation more attractive.

  • Developing infrastructure charging

Charges on infrastructure aim to improve the management of freight transport and reduce transport's environmental impact while generating funds for investing in new infrastructure. On 27 March 2005, a new Eurovignette Directive was adopted, giving Member States the right to introduce charges on all roads, rather than only on motorways, and, as of 2012, applicable to all lorries over 3.5 tonnes (see our LinksDossier on road charging).

The Commission is also preparing a model for the calculation and internalisation of external costs that will be applicable to all modes of transport (see our LinksDossier on transport infrastructure and environment).

  • Promoting the use of cleaner cars and fuels

Cars represent 10% of all EU CO2 emissions. Up till now, the Commission's strategy for reducing CO2 emissions has been mainly based on voluntary commitments from the car industry, but the target of limiting CO2 emissions from passenger cars to 120g/km by 2010 is still far off. In February 2007, the Commission proposed introducing binding targets (see LinksDossier on Cars & CO2). 

The Commission is also looking to tighten up emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOX) and hydrocarbons from petrol and diesel cars by introducing ever tighter compulsory limits. 'Euro 5' standards will enter into force in mid-2009 and stricter, longer-term 'Euro 6' limits are to be applied as of mid-2014 (see LinksDossier on Euro 5).  

To reduce the automotive sector’s dependency on oil, the Commission has set itself the target of increasing the share of alternative fuels in transport from 2% to 20% by 2020 
(see LinksDossier on alternative fuels). 
In 2003, the Commission adopted a directive aimed at promoting biofuels and increasing their share in transport to 5.75% by 2010, but the bar has since been raised by EU leaders, meeting in March 2007, to a mandatory target of 10% by 2020 (EURACTIV 09/03/07). The biofuels directive is expected for review in January 2008 
(see LinksDossier on biofuels for transport). 

Furthermore, because in order for manufacturers to produce cleaner cars, there needs to be a market for them, the Commission has put forward a proposal requiring that all heavy-duty vehicles (buses and trucks of over 3.5 tonnes) purchased or leased by public bodies be clean and energy efficient (EURACTIV 20/12/07). 

  • Road safety action programme

The EU aims to halve the number of deaths on the road by 2010. In June 2003, the Commission adopted its 3rd road safety action programme which is designed to encourage road users to improve their behaviour, to make vehicles safer and to improve road infrastructure. In the February 2006 mid-term review of the programme, it appeared that the number of deaths had decreased from 50.000 in 2001 to 42.000 in 2005, but that this progress will not be enough to reach the 2010 target. Priority is now being given to improving the skills of motorcyclists, which are the category of road users most at risk. 

  • Rethinking air transport

Air traffic exploded in the last 15 years, leading to a 73% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation between 1990 and 2003. In December 2006, the Commission presented plans to include aviation in the EU's cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions (see LinksDossier on Aviation & the ETS).

Efforts to create a 'Single European Sky' that would replace the current fragmented system where 27 different pieces of airspace remain under the control of national governments, are also underway. The project, launched in 1999, should allow for improved air traffic management, thereby reducing the number of traffic jams and unnecessary kilometres flown, and allowing for a reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, while increasing safety (EURACTIV 09/07/07).

  • Promoting the use of public transport

About 80% of European citizens live in urban areas and mobility is becoming an everyday problem for them because cars are causing so much congestion. Increased car use has also been accompanied by safety and environmental problems. 

Since 2002, the Commission has supported the organisation of an annual Mobility Week in European cities to raise awareness about these problems.

Also, in order to encourage local authorities to provide quality investment in clean and efficient public transport, the Commission presented a Green Paper on Urban Transport in September 2007 (see LinksDossier on Urban Transport). 

  • Transport research

To complement the above measures, research into cleaner and safer transport has been given priority at EU level. The Sixth Research Framework Programme singled out sustainable development, global change and ecosystems as priority areas. The 7th Framework Programme, launched in 2007, will allocate €4.1 billion of the €50.5 billion research budget specifically to transport research activities, such as research on 'greening' transport and on decongesting transport corridors. A further €2.26 billion will be allocated to energy research, including research on hydrogen fuel cells and renewable fuel production, such as biofuels (see LinksDossier on FP7).

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) considers that: "It is clear that current patterns of provision and consumption of mobility are not sustainable. This is particularly visible in urban situations, as cities all over the world suffer from high levels of traffic related congestion and pollution. However, no one mode can satisfy all the urban transport needs either today or in the future. Therefore a balance must be struck between collective and individual transport, taking into account economic, environmental and societal issues in order for any level of sustainable development to be achieved. Adequately addressing the highly complex challenges of sustainable mobility depends on the co-ordination of all stakeholders".

Global car makers are showing commitment to promote hydrogen and fuel cell technology in order to reduce the consumption of non renewable energy and the environmental impacts of road transport, while rail transport representatives believe that an increased use of rail is the key to attaining sustainable mobility.

The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) says that Europe's transport policy is unsustainable, fails to set clear objectives for reducing pollutant and noise emissions, and completely ignores the health and environment objectives set out in the EU ‘Sustainable Development Strategy’.

  • 22 June 2006: The Commission adopted a Mid-Term Review of the Transport White Paper.
  • September 2007: Presentation of a Green Paper on urban transport (see LinksDossier on Urban Transport). 

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